The Shovel



The other day I was watching a television series on Netflix called Narcos, about the world's most famous drug traffickers, from Colombia to Mexico. I love that show. For some addicts it's just too triggering to see all that gorgeous cocaine being produced and weighed and packaged and shipped and sold and snorted but not for me. "If I can no longer do drugs at least I can enjoy watching people do drugs" is my somewhat messed-up reasoning. I was watching a scene in which two powerful narco-trafficking drug lords are trying to figure out a way to get past the U.S. border control. One of the men says he does not have an answer to their very serious predicament but that he will pray to God. His accomplice, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, answers with this: "If you go to bed praying for God to move a mountain be prepared to wake up next to a shovel."


I have been thinking about the wisdom of that line for weeks. I prayed for years to be relieved of my addiction to alcohol. I prayed on my knees to gods eastern and western and extraterrestrial, all to no avail. It was only when I prayed to God AND picked up the shovel that things began to change for the better.


For me, picking up the shovel looked like this. I started to attend A.A. meetings. I just walked in by myself one day and stayed. I forced myself to walk in and sit down. That took a shovel for sure. Then I had to fess up, to myself and others, about the true nature of my obsession with alcohol. My complete inability to stop drinking. Those countless days into years of promising myself that I would not drink that day just to break that promise to myself by 5 or 6 p.m. No matter how badly I wanted to stop (and I really did want to stop) I was unable to. As I have learned in A.A. "faith without works is dead" so there was some real work to be done if I truly wanted relief.


I had to admit that I was powerless over alcohol, that in this one area of my life I had no control. This was very hard to do. I have always been an independent person, self-reliant from a young age, beholden to no man. With nothing but an innate competitive nature and some fierce determination I had somehow excelled in school and in work and yet....I could not stop drinking. How could that be? I had to pick up that shovel, admit that I was powerless and then I had to turn my life over to the care of God as I understood him. I was told that if I was able to do that, to fully surrender my problem to a force greater than myself, that I might be able to stop drinking. So I did. I sought to put my faith in a Higher Power and in the rooms of A.A. If they can do this I thought, gazing around at the hundreds of strangers that I attended meetings with that first year, then so can I....maybe. But like moving a mountain with a shovel, getting sober takes hard work, patience, commitment and time. This power that booze held over me did not disappear immediately. It took a year. One full year of wanting desperately to drink and forcing myself not to. For some reason that first year in A.A. I was unwilling to surrender completely. I white-knuckled it. That is not the case with everyone. Some people enter the rooms of A.A. and the desire to drink leaves them almost immediately. I do appreciate that sort of "white-light" miracle but it was not the case with me. I struggled, I was extremely uncomfortable in my skin, I felt afraid and shaky and ashamed of my addiction, and therefore did not fully embrace the program of A.A. I now know that if I had fully embraced the program at the beginning that first year would have been less painful for me. Although I did follow 2 of the A.A. suggestions religiously that first year: "Don't drink and go to meetings". That's what I did. I went through it. I did not waver. Mentally I felt the worst I have ever felt in my life but I just pretended that I was okay. I acted as if I was going to be okay, and in the acting as if I was okay, eventually, as by osmosis, I was okay. Maybe I hypnotized myself into okay-ness, maybe I caught whatever okay magic was there, floating around the rooms of A.A., maybe it was God's okay grace? I'm pretty convinced it was a combo platter of all three. But after that one year without a drink I felt better. I felt some internal power coming back. I had been through everything a year can throw at you and I had not had to take a drink. Not even a sip.


I need to continue to do the work daily. It's not always easy to find the time to go to a meeting, reach out to another group member, pray, meditate, exercise. It takes a lot to keep my ship from capsizing, but it's worth it. And the time I spend doing the work in A.A. is a fraction of the time I would have wasted in addiction. Say I spend 10 hours a week on A.A. related "work'" going to meetings, reading the literature, focusing on one specific step, communicating with my sober friends, sponsor or sponsee. That is still a fraction of the time I wasted in addiction. At the end of my drinking I would spend 10 hours or more in a single day lost in shame and bewilderment and despair. Shame that I drank the day before when I had sworn to myself and anyone else who would listen that I was "going on the wagon"...again. In active addiction I would wake up in a total shame-drenched panic at 7 a.m. and then would spend the next 10 hours (at least) dealing with my hangover and the shame and potential fallout from the previous day’s drinking. What had happened to all my promises, my oaths, my willpower? Sure, I would be at work or yoga or out with friends or wherever but the wallpaper of my brain was shame. Shame caused by not being able to stop drinking, by not being able to regulate myself, shame at being out of control. If I look at it that way then 10 hours a week of doing the work (work which I actually enjoy) compared to a day spent in 10 hours of remorse, nausea and shame? It's a no brainer. I have come to love the "work" required in AA. The work nourishes me, feeds me, is very rewarding, and hopefully at the end of the day makes me a better person.


So I keep my shovel with me. I do the daily work required and I always remember that although it can be hard and the shovel is sometimes heavy, doing the work in the program of A.A. is absolutely positively worth the effort.

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